For 50 years, RSVP of Dane County has been helping volunteers make a difference in Dane County communities, and we feel the volunteer spirit is as strong today as it was in 1972 - maybe stronger!
How it all started
In 1969, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) was created as a national volunteer program under the Older American’s Act. Its goal was two-fold 1) utilize the energy and experience of older Americans to serve their communities; and 2) provide a sense of purpose and social connection for seniors. RSVP of Dane County was launched in 1972 and incorporated as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. We have been matching volunteers (primarily age 55+) with service opportunities in Dane County ever since.
Today, RSVP of Dane County is one of the largest RSVP programs in the nation. In a typical year our 1,400+ volunteers provide over 177,000 hours of service—the equivalent to an 85-person workforce. Volunteer service through RSVP enriches the lives of the volunteers and supports people in need. Throughout the past 50 years, RSVP has added programs to help meet community needs such as Driver Escort (rides to medical appointments) and Home Delivered Meals, helping over 2,000 older adults and veterans stay independent and in their own homes. Our Foster Grandparent program helps low-income seniors who tutor children, by providing a small stipend and other benefits to make volunteering affordable.
There have been challenges, but the volunteer spirit has prevailed
Through the years there have been challenges. One of the biggest has been the impact of COVID-19 on our programs, because our senior volunteers are in the most vulnerable age group. COVID may have changed some priorities, but it hasn’t slowed us down. Despite the pandemic, over 900 RSVP volunteers and 16 Foster Grandparents are currently serving Dane County residents. Volunteers are providing rides for veterans and seniors to medical appointments, delivering meals and groceries to homebound seniors, helping children with reading using remote learning platforms, and making face masks, warm caps, mittens, and blankets.
We attributed our longevity and success to our people—volunteers, board and committee members, and staff who are committed to serving others. Staff meet with potential volunteers and discuss their interests and schedules before recommending a placement from dozens of options. Many of our wonderful volunteers have served twenty or more years in volunteer roles they love. Our community partners, businesses, senior centers, and other nonprofits have helped us promote volunteerism. Our public funders, foundations, private donors, and business sponsors have helped to provide the financial stability we need to further our mission.
Today, the need is growing
The senior population and its needs, including the risk of social isolation, continue to grow. According to a recent study, over forty percent of seniors regularly feel lonely, which can be associated with a higher risk of dementia and shortened life. RSVP eases loneliness by connecting volunteers with people in need in our community, and we hope to continue to do so for another fifty years! “I believe most people have talents that they can use to contribute to the community. Volunteers address real needs and volunteer service also leads to other RSVP friendships. RSVP allows us to be active and visible.” - RSVP volunteer serving twenty years